I have heard the word artifact come up a few times in Computer Science parlance and have been bit confused surrounding its proper usage.

I have read in the dictionary that its second (non physical) definition is:

artifact: something observed in scientific investigation or experimentation that is not naturally present but occurs as a result of the preparative or investigative procedure

To me this definition seems a bit abstruse and is not quite concrete.

I have heard it used in the context "that is an artifact of X" (X being some specific thing). What exactly does this mean and how should it be used? Any example sentences with a few more tangible usages would be greatly appreciated.

  • It has a half-dozen different meanings.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 10, 2020 at 0:57
  • 3
    Slightly more general than the above definition is side-effect -- often "artifact" is used to refer to some behavior which is a side-effect of either the process being observed or the tools/mechanisms used to perform the observation.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 10, 2020 at 1:17
  • @HotLicks, thank you for taking the time to provide this insight.
    – Ethan
    Jun 10, 2020 at 3:18

2 Answers 2


There is one sort of artifact which is to do with preparation: for example, in electron microscopy the samples are freeze dried. So, you may see structures that are artifacts of the drying process and not present in the living cell.

An artifact is damage caused by a preparation technique and can easily be confused with the sample’s microstructure.

Sample Preparation Handbook for Transmission Electron Microscopy

In more theoretical sciences, artifacts are often part of the data processing process. A familiar one is the characteristic fringing you see on using JPEG compression.

A compression artifact (or artefact) is a noticeable distortion of media (including images, audio, and video) caused by the application of lossy compression

Compression artifact, Wikipedia

Sampling can also create artifacts, for example if you are taking data below the Nyquist frequency.

MRI artifacts are numerous and give an insight into the physics behind each sequence. Some artifacts affect the quality of the MRI exam while others do not affect the diagnostic quality but may be confused with pathology.

MRI artifacts, Radiopaedia

One of my favourites: the lost city of Atlantis (spoiler: it's not real).

  • Thank you for this response and the examples. This makes this much more concrete for me now.
    – Ethan
    Jun 10, 2020 at 15:16

We need context.

In particular, display artifacts are

errors that occur during signal transmission or interpretation.

usually resulting in an abnormal screen appearance.

I do not know of any other computer specific ones, but you may have run across a more general usage, which would make sense with more context.

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